Okarito, Franz Josef Glacier, & Lake Matheson
May 20, 2005
|The flotilla of campervans traversing this grand country became a bit more apparent as we traveled down the west coast. We were on a definite tourist track, and felt very fortunate, while we stopped at various lookout points and tourist destinations that we had come to New Zealand when we did: Autumn. What a gorgeous time of year, especially when the sun is shining and the breeze has a tinge of warmth, and the tourists are fewer. (I speak as tough I am not a tourist myself, traveling in a white campervan, with our Lonely Planet guidebook glued to my hip, but I am just as guilty as the rest of them). We have said to eachother many times though, especially when at the major tourist attractions, that we are so glad that we are not here during the high season, for we can't imagine how crowded it must be, and how uninticing those crowds are.
The west coast in the South Island however, allowed us a glimpse of those crowds, although I'm sure they were 75% smaller than they were only months ago. For anyone thinking of traveling to NZ- do not be afraid of the "cold" that so many warn about during March-May: its a gorgeous time, and prices are cheaper and you have a bit more personal space to enjoy the sights and sounds.
We knew that we wanted to see both the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, but were unsure of what exactly we were to do there, or what we would be able to see considering our budget, and considering the ridiculous number of adventure activities available to tourist. The Lonely Planet has been ludicrous in its "proposed" 2 or 3 day plans for certain areas- "wake up to a latte and an eggs benedict at so and so, then book yourself a skydive, followed by a quick bungy off the 700m bridge. Have lunch by the fire at the Waterfront (be sure to order the crayfish- you MUST have one before leaving NZ. If you still have the energy, grab some friends and jet boat down the such and such river, then finish off the night sipping local wine at Bridgewater Restaurant."
Calculation: latte and eggs benedict for one: $22.00; skydive: $350; bungy: $100; lunch: $50, jetboat: $95; wine: $40 TOTAL: $657
Of course we don't take Lonely Planet's advice on most things (some we do though, of course, because its mighty helpful... but, they don't make a "New Zealand on a Shoestring" guide as they do for most other countries. There are many travelers here for the purpose of action adventure, and when we are comparing stories, we often find that we are alone in never having gone skydiving, or bungy jumping, jet boating or under-water-river-rafting...
So we find ourselves en route to the glaciers, with the assumption that unless we book a $150 guided glacier hike, or a $300 heli-hike, we won't really be able to get close enough to see the glaciers. So, we drive towards them without truly knowing if we'll be able to do or see anything.
We are happy, though, just to drive- as the scenery is amazing, and the adventure of it all is still invigorating. (And the van is damn comfortable, I must say!... especially when Jon is driving the entire time!) We decide to stop off at a little seaside town called Okarito, where we do just a little 1.5 hour hike, which brings us to an amazing panoramic view of the snow-capped southern alps, and the coastline. The sleepy little beach town also has a town-run campsite which we use for hot showers, to fill our water jugs, wash the dishes and feel human again. We are then ready to hit the road to find ourselves a free camping spot, and to see what we can see about the Franz Josef Glacier. Our viewing of the glacier turns out to be pretty darn good- and free. We take the 20 minute walk... which turns out to be the hour walk (we misread the signs), and we walk across what looks like a huge dry river bed (the original glacier path) with the glacier looming in the distance. We were able to get in arms reach of the huge chunk of ice- and it really was an amazing sight. Having never seen a glacier before, I wasn't quite thrilled about the prospect, as I had no idea what to expect, but, it was certainly impressive, and a testament to our planet's geological wonders. A photo certainly didn't capture its immensity.
We embarked on our hour's walk back feeling satisfied with our findings and observations, and also extremely hungry for dinner. It was beginning to get dark, and we hadn't eaten much all day. So, we boogied back pretty quickly to the trailhead and the van, and had some Gingernuts to tie us over until dinner.
On our way out of Franz Josef, we spot two young women backpackers on the side of the road with eager thumbs, and thus initiated our first hitchhiker experience. We picked up the young ladies, who had been tramping all day on the glacier, and needed a ride to Fox Glacier, just 25 K down the road. Turned out it was the German girls' first attempt at hitchhiking, so we had a nice little amateur hitchhiking chat as we drove. It felt nice to help them out some fellow backpackers, and by dropping them off in the town near Fox Glacier, we were able to spot our camping place for the night, at Lake Matheson.
Ironically, or, not quite so, considering the small size of the country and the tourist "track" we seemed to be on on the West Coast, we spotted our friends Martin and whatshername's blue van in the trailhead. We had come to the same spot again to camp!
We had a lovely little dinner from our very fancy camp stove in our elegant van, and then had an early sleep.
Waking up and peaking out the mist covered window to discover what our surroundings look like in daylight is one of my favorite things to do. The views are always so majestical, and it is so peaceful to wake to such wonderful natural surroundings. The view that morning was particularly lovely. (we'll put up a photo soon... ) There was a layer of fog hovering over the fields, the tree tops peaking over the top, and the glacier and the alps looming above.
Views like these can make you forget about feeling really bummed about not having a shower to step into, having to brush your teeth by drinking from a water bottle, and peeing in the woods.
We took an invigorating walk around the track at Lake Matheson (thought of you, Lizzie, Rick and Liza!!), which is known for its reflections of the glacier and alps in its waters. Just beautiful, and a wonderful way to begin the day.